After more than three decades of development, transformative learning theory is currently a major theory of adult learning. It has also attracted substantial critique, leading to further development, application and differentiation. Recent contributions to this vast scholarship show a quest for a more unified theory. This article examines transformative learning theory via a case study of an adult education project in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Drawing on life and pedagogical experiences of an educator, it focusses on aspects of the theory subjected to critique and raises questions about attempts to foster transformative learning in oppressive contexts involving trauma and fear. The article calls for greater attention to the life and experiences of the educator in the learning process while responding to calls for theoretical examination in more diverse contexts. It thus illustrates how more varied, situated accounts of transformative learning attempts may challenge and improve our understandings of adult learning encounters.